Ah Ku and Karayuki-san

Prostitution in Singapore, 1870—1940

James F. Warren

Ah Ku and Karayuki-san

James F. Warren

Distributed for National University of Singapore Press

249 pages | 6 x 9 3/4 | © 2009
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9789814722858 Published October 2019 For sale in North and South America and China only

Among the many groups of workers whose labor built Singapore in the 20th century, there may be none as marginalized in memory as the women who travelled from China and Japan to work in Singapore as prostitutes. This study sketches in the trade in women and children in Asia, and - making innovative use of Coroner’s Inquests and other records - hones in on the details of the prostitutes’ lives in the colonial city: the daily brothel routine, crises and violence, social relations, leisure, mobility, disease and death. The result is a powerful historical account of human nature, of human relationships, of pride, prejudice, struggle and spirit. Ordinary people tumble from the pages of the records: they talk about choice of partners, love and betrayal, desperation and alienation, drawing us into their lives. This social history is a powerful corrective to the romantic image of colonial Singapore as a city of excitement, sophistication, exotic charm and easy sex. In the years since its original publication in 1992, this book, and its companion Rickshaw Coolie, have become an inspiration to those seeking to come to grips with Singapore’s past.

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